Mystery Bidder Spends $95 Million on a Picasso
06.05.2006 By Carol VOGEL
A detail of "Dora Maar With Cat," a 1941 portrait by Picasso, was sold Wednesday night for $95.2 million, the second highest price for a painting at auction.
A man appearing to be in his mid-40's, wearing a blue blazer and a cream-colored shirt, persistently waved paddle No. 1340 from far back in Sotheby's salesroom last night to spend $95.2 million on a Picasso portrait of his mistress Dora Maar. It became the second highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction, after "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)," a 1905 painting from Picasso's Rose Period, which brought $104.1 million at Sotheby's in May 2004.
The buyer, unrecognized by the crowds who kept craning their necks to get a glimpse of him bidding, was said by those who sat near him to sound Russian. Refusing to identify himself, he was escorted out a side door by a Sotheby's staff member after the sale to avoid the throngs of television cameras and reporters.
He was obviously new to both Sotheby's executives, who would never have seated him in such a remote spot had they realized what a big spender he would be, and to the auction process, as evidenced by the relentless and unsophisticated manner in which he waved his paddle. (More seasoned buyers would have been more discreet and wily.)
And he did not come just to buy the Picasso. Earlier he snapped up an 1883 Monet seascape for $5 million and later a 1978 Chagall biblical scene, "Paradise," for $2.5 million, spending a total of $102.7 million.
The anonymous buyer ended up supplying nearly half the revenue of the entire evening in a sale that totaled $207.5 million, above its high estimate of $190.8 million. Of the 55 lots, only 7 failed to sell.
Five bidders would have been happy to own the 1941 Picasso, which had not been seen in public for more than 40 years. "Dora Maar With Cat" is a large canvas — 501/2 by 371/2 inches — that depicts Maar in a large wooden chair with a black cat perched on her shoulder. The $95.2 million paid was nearly twice the $50 million low estimate.
Experts say Sotheby's had given the sellers, the Gidwitz family of Chicago, a guarantee — an undisclosed minimum sum regardless of the outcome of the sale — of $53 million. And the Picasso wasn't the only work in last night's sale with a big guarantee: for the last week, dealers have been saying that Sotheby's had invested $80 million in guarantees. Dangerous as it seemed. the tactic paid off.
(Prices of record include Sotheby's commission: 20 percent of the first $200,000 of the hammer price and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)
Sotheby's had also guaranteed Matisse's "Reclining Nude, View of Her Back" (1927), estimated at $12 million to $15 million. While the catalog does not identify the seller, art experts say he is the financier Henry R. Kravis, a former Sotheby's board member. The Matisse, too, was a winner, bringing $18.4 million — a record for the artist at auction — from a telephone bidder.
Late Picassos have recently been bringing big prices, and several performed well last night. Sotheby's had promised Eli Broad, the Los Angeles financier and collector, a guarantee for his "Harlequin With Baton," a 1969 image of a harlequin — an alter ego of the artist — waving a long, phallic baton. It brought $10 million, its high estimate, from by another telephone bidder.
Tyco International was selling two paintings that had been at the center of a scandal when its former chairman and chief executive, L. Dennis Kozlowski, was indicted in 2002 on charges that he evaded more than $1 million in New York State taxes by having art dealers ship empty boxes to Tyco's offices in New Hampshire while having messengers deliver the paintings to his Fifth Avenue apartment. "Flowers and Fruit," an 1889 Renoir still life that Mr. Kozlowski had purchased from the Richard Green Gallery in London, was expected to sell for $2.5 million to $3.5 million. Nancy Whyte, a Manhattan dealer, bought it for $2.8 million. A Monet landscape, "Near Monte-Carlo," an 1883 seascape estimated at $2 million to $3 million, was sold $5 million to the anonymous buyer of the $95.2 million Picasso.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was also a seller. A late Picasso, "Seated Woman in an Armchair" (1960). That work, estimated at $3 million to $5 million, brought $6.7 million from a telephone bidder.
Works on paper have performed well when properly priced. "Rooftops," an 1882 van Gogh watercolor that has been on and off the market for 10 years was expected to bring $2.5 million to $3.5 million. A telephone buyer outbid four contenders, paying $4.7 million. The sellers were the heirs of Georges Renand, the founder of the French department store La Samaritaine.
An ecstatic David Norman, director of Impressionist and Modern art for Sotheby's in New York, said after the sale that the buyer of the expensive Picasso "was someone with fabulous taste," adding, "Pictures like that are few and far between."